Published Mar 21, 2013All of the critical praise surrounding this slim feature length story set in the Batman: The Animated Series universe is a little baffling. It must be the discernment-diminishing nostalgia factor taking hold of those who were put off by Tim Burton's flashy gothic vision.
Mask of the Phantasm is a back to basics tale of Gotham's caped defender that retreads familiar ideas using classic Warner Bros. cartoon-style animation. There's nothing about the story to suggest that Alan Burnett's simple crime mystery was particularly well suited to the big screen; it would have been just as effective and less cumbersome as a two-part TV episode.
As is often the case, Batman is running afoul of the Gotham City police department, this time after being wrongly accused of a string of targeted murders of mob bosses. From the get go, we know that Bruce Wayne is innocent since we see the spectral assassin off a victim in the opening scene, thusly missing out on a more psychologically interesting "what if the Bat finally snapped?" red herring.
But this tale of the nut job who plays dress up to go out beating people up at night is concerned with an angle the movies can't resist, but the comics know better than to harp on: is there room for love in the life of a vigilante? No, there's not.
If you've spent any amount of time with the character in any medium, his relationship track record speaks for itself (Bruce and Selina wouldn't last if Rises wasn't the end of Christopher Nolan's stewardship, guaranteed). All the same, the majority of Phantasm involves Bruce agonizing over whether or not he can make it work with Andrea Beaumont, a once and present love interest.
In flashback form, wedged amidst humdrum scenes of the courtship between the sadistic billionaire and this wily vixen, Bruce demonstrates a bit of his psychological imbalance as a pre-Bat youth seeking approval from a tombstone.
There are a few decent action set pieces during the present day sequences as the fully cowled crusader evades the cops and investigates the identity of his rival vigilante but the movie doesn't have much spring in its step until The Joker (enthusiastically voiced by Mark Hamill) shows up to make bad puns and engineer a campy climatic showdown worthy of the Warner Bros. Animation tag.
Unless you're enamoured by redundant simplicity, you'd be better off watching any Batman movie that doesn't have "& Robin" in the title.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Comic Book Heroes retrospective at 1pm on March 23rd, 2013. (Warner)